after jumping through a few hoops and much, much anticipation, i finally managed to score a table at the hungry cat's 2nd annual crabfest. all-you-can-eat blue crab done maryland style, steamed in old bay seasoning and vinegar - pretty much impossible to find in town unless you make it yourself.
reservations had booked solid for nearly a month, and i'd started out at #14 on the waiting list. eventually a slot opened up (any time of day i told them) and so i starved myself all morning before heading out for my afternoon table.
i started off with some beer - a from the tap selection before i wised up and ordered the 'national bohemian' canned bear ostensibly from baltimore (but really brewed in milwaukee apparently). still, it went well with the food to follow, which began with an incredible crab soup - a light chowder simply bursting with so much crab meat i no longer knew what to do with myself.
a couple of sides soon followed: a bean salad, perfect in its vinagarette and crumbled bleu cheese goodness, had a slight crunch to it and was served cold. a similarly oily red cabbage italian coleslaw was a bit heavy on the flavor but if anything, was too much of a good thing. oh yea, there was buttered corn as well.
finally, we arrived at the moment we'd been waiting for. maryland hardshells rained down on our newspaper-lined table, caked in enough super-savory old bay spice to make your lips wither. hammer in hand, we got a'crackin. (well, she did, i just sort of destroyed their armor with my teeth, ghetto chinese-style).
overall we had 11 crabs and an assortment of severed claws - there were a few duds in the bunch, where you could tell the crab was not all that fresh, but its understandable since they'd been shipped across the country and you normally have a hard time finding blue crabs here (chinese supermarkets notwithstanding). additionally the crabs were a tad understeamed, but i didn't mind at all. (korean-style crab is served completely raw, and i dig that stuff, for what its worth).
at some point they ran out of their hardshells and started substituing santa barbara rock crabs - which are still pretty good (they're larger and hard to find), but not quite the same if you want the authentic baltimore experience. blue crab meat is much sweeter than either rock or the ubiquitous dungeness, but you really have to dig at it as the crabs are midgets compared to what you can find at say, redondo beach pier.
cap it with a pleasant strawberry shortcake (could have used a bit more sauce), and it was a pleasant, 4-hour afternoon lunch, just like the french do it.
*incidentally, the waiter mentioned that many people have been asking for crabfest to be a more-than-once-a-year event, and that they're considering doing it again perhaps later on in the blue crab season =)